Hey, Bills Mafia! What if I told you your team has an opportunity to add one of the best defensive linemen in recent history for a potential championship run? Now, what if I mentioned you could get him for a fraction of what he’s worth? Would you do it?
Well, that’s the situation your Buffalo Bills are facing right now with J.J. Watt. The star defensive end may be on the market, as Houston continues their descent into a full-blown rebuild. But should the Bills go after him? That is what we will discuss today.
The Method to the Madness
Since this question involves many factors, I decided to bring in fellow BF contributor, Ben Blakely, to help conduct a thorough debate. I will go through the benefits of bringing Watt to Buffalo, while Ben will discuss the risks. Then, we will come together to project and dissect a hypothetical Watt to Bills trade package.
Why the Bills Should Get Him
Your Buffalo Bills are playoff contenders, but they need to improve to take the next step. One way to do so would be to go out and get J.J. Watt, one of the greatest pass rushers in recent history. Here are four reasons why the Bills should acquire him.
1.) An Offensive Coordinator/Quarterback’s Worst Nightmare
As BF contributor Nate Asper stated earlier this week, “None of the Bills defensive ends strike fear into an opponent… Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison were decent enough, but they’re not guys a [offensive] coordinator needs to gameplan around”.
Think back to the 2019 wild card game. Did Brian Daboll have to scheme around J.J. Watt? Did Josh Allen feel his presence, even though he only had two tackles, one sack, and two quarterback hits? The answer to both questions is yes.
J.J. Watt literally does everything you could ask of a defensive end. He is an effective run stuffer (172 career tackles for loss/TFLs), pass rusher (101 career sacks and 282 career quarterback/QB hits), and Dikembe Mutombo impersonator (61 career passes defensed/PDs; he’s not called J.J. Swatt for nothing). He is that guy who can wreck an offensive effort any given Sunday.
When you have that guy off the edge who attracts double-teams and tight end/running back chucks at the line, like Watt, it opens up opportunities for the other pass rushers to get to the quarterback. (Does Saints DE Trey Hendrickson have a career year in 2020 without Cameron Jordan opposite him?)
2.) Instant Upgrade at Defensive End
Some say that J.J. Watt would be another older player on the defensive line. However, that would not be the case. Watt would replace Addison, providing a significant upgrade as a power rusher and run stopper. The following are Watt’s and Addison’s stat lines since 2018:
|Player||Games Played||Tackles||Tackles for Loss (TFLs)||Sacks||QB Hits||Passes Defensed (PDs)||Forced Fumbles (FFs)||Fumble Recoveries (FRs)||Interceptions (INTs)||Average PFF Grade|
While Watt played six less games than Addison, he racked up more stats. There is only a marginal difference in sack totals, but Watt had nearly twice the number of QB hits. (21 of which came in his injury-shortened 2019 season.) In other words, Watt hits and takes down the quarterback more frequently than Addison.
Bills fans should also recall how Addison was consistently fooled by mobile quarterbacks, like Kyler Murray, on read options and bootlegs. I have yet to see Watt fall for those shenanigans.
Furthermore, pairing Jerry Hughes with J.J. Watt would result in a formidable pass rush both in 2013 and 2021. According to Pro Football Focus, Hughes (86.0) and Watt (85.5) were the fifth and seventh-highest graded edge rushers in 2020. (Not bad for a couple of football geezers.)
3.) Age is but a Number
Yes, J.J. Watt is 31 going on 32 and is closer to the end of his career. However, that does not mean he’s past his prime and usefulness. There are some legendary edge rushers who maintained solid production well after their age-32 season.
|Player||Years (Age) Active Post Age-31 Season||Games Played||Tackles||TFLs||Sacks||QB Hits*||PDs||FFs||FRs||INTs|
|Julius Peppers||2012-18 (Age 32-38)||112||242||58||59.5||94||25||15||12||3|
|Michael Strahan||2003-07 (Age 32-36)||65||287||65||46||27||12||6||6||0|
|Jason Taylor||2006-11 (Age 32-37)||93||243||56||47||67||37||19||8||4|
Peppers, Strahan, and Taylor each made multiple Pro Bowls in their golden years. In fact, each of them made the Pro Bowl in their age-32 season. (Strahan and Taylor earned First Team All-Pro honors in their age-32 season as well.) Meanwhile, Michael Strahan (15 games in 2004 and 2006) was the only one to miss significant time with injuries after his age-32 season.
Watt’s age also brings wisdom, as he’s been around the game long enough to know the ins and outs of pass-rushing. Who better to aid in the development of Ed Oliver, Darryl Johnson, A.J. Epenesa, and/or whichever youngster they draft in April than J.J. Watt, arguably the best pass rusher of the past decade?
4.) A “Process Guy” Through and Through
J.J. Watt fits the “Process” like a glove. On the field, he is a longtime team captain who holds everyone accountable. (Only a true leader would apologize to the star quarterback for “wasting one of his years”.) The Bills have been lacking that elder statesman, that vocal leader on defense since the retirements of Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander. Watt could immediately fill that void.
He is also a workhorse on the defensive line, having played at least 88% of Houston’s defensive snaps in six of his nine seasons. If you put him in McDermott’s d-line rotation, that should mitigate some of the potential injury risks.
Furthermore, there are numerous stories out there about Watt’s charitable work in Houston and the surrounding community. According to Sarah Barshop of ESPN, he won the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award as a result of his foundation’s fundraising efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Why the Bills Should Not Get Him
Alright, Bills Mafia. Yes, J.J. Watt would be a veteran presence and may have something left in the tank to help the Bills struggling pass rush off the edge. But some negatives come with Watt’s game. Here are three reasons why the Bills should not sign the 10-year NFL veteran.
1.) Injury Machine
Watt tore up opposing offensive lines, recording 69 sacks and 41 passes defended from 2012 to 2015. He was also named First-Team All-Pro and Pro-Bowler during that span, while also winning three NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards (2012, 2014-2015). Not too shabby for a player who initially went to Central Michigan to be a tight end.
However, after his last DPOY Award in 2015, injuries started to catch up to the former Wisconsin Badger. Take a look at the following table of the most serious injuries Watt has dealt with throughout his career.
|Knee (Staph Infection)||2015||-Noticed bump on knee|
-Immediately taken to hospital
|No (IV antibiotics)||None||The Players’ Tribune|
|Grade 3 Abdomen Muscle Tear||Nov. 29, 2015 (vs. Saints)||-Ruptured muscle/tendon|
-Portion of bowel may protrude into abdominal wall
|Yes (off-season)||None||ISK Institute and SportsInjuryPredictor|
|Herniated Disc #1||Halfway through 2015 season||-Part of center nucleus pushes through outer edge of disk, back toward spinal canal|
-Causes pressure on nerves
-Results in pain, numbness, or weakness in legs
|Yes (July 2016)||None||SportsInjuryPredictor and American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons|
|Herniated Disk #2||September 22, 2016||-Re-aggravated injury against Patriots||Yes||Rest of 2017 season|
|Left Leg Tibial Plateau Fracture||October 8, 2017 (vs. Chiefs)||-Non-contact injury|
-Helped to sideline
-Taken to local hospital
|Yes||Rest of 2018 season||SportsInjuryPredictor|
|Grade 3 Chest Pectoralis Strain||October 27, 2019 (vs. Raiders)||-Full thickness tear/rupture of the muscle tendon|
-Results in pain, significant loss of strength/movement
|Yes||8 games (Played Wild Card vs. Bills.)||SportsInjuryPredictor and Physica.com|
Could Watt’s injury history be enough for the Bills to steer clear of him?
If that’s not enough information, here is some more information. According to Sports Injury Predictor, Watt has a 91% injury risk and has projections to miss 4.7 games. Additionally, he has only played 32 of a possible 64 games over the past four years. And while he played all 16 games in 2020, I do not think I could trust him to give 100%.
Furthermore, Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane want somebody to cycle in and out of the rotation at a moment’s notice. And I do not think Watt can handle the constant shift, considering his past injuries. Could Watt really put together a strong enough season to help the Bills get past the AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs?
2) Age is a Magic Number
It seems the NFL keeps getting younger and younger, allowing many teams to get offensive and defensive talent without breaking the bank. I will get into some younger options in a minute. But in Watt’s case, this may hurt his chances of being the game wrecker he was.
Watt will turn 32 on March 22nd. And while he may have some left in the tank, others that have been in Watt’s shoes have struggled after turning 30. Since I love tables so much, let me show you a breakdown of two players that I think compare greatly with Watt: Jared Allen and Lawrence Taylor.
|Player||Age-31 Season Stats (year)||Stats after Age-31 Season (years)||Hall of Fame?|
|Jared Allen||11.5 sacks, 52 tackles*, 13 TFLs in 16 games (2013)||7.5 sacks, 89 tackles, 11 TFLs in 30 games (2014-15)||2021 Finalist|
|Lawrence Taylor||10.5 sacks, 1 INT in 16 games (1990)||18 sacks, 4 FRs in 39 games (1991-93)||Yes|
|J.J. Watt||5 sacks, 52 tackles, 14 TFLs in 16 games (2020)||TBD||TBD|
At 31-years-old, Allen and Taylor were right where J.J. Watt is right now in terms of their careers: a crossroads. This, paired with the struggle to play all 16 games consistently, shows that the NFL is not just a dream. Many athletes burn out after a handful of seasons or at the end of their careers because their bodies cannot take the strain and brick-wall intensity of each passing season.
As with Allen and Taylor, it seems father time is starting to catch up to J.J. Watt. For starters, he has not had double-digit sacks in a season since 2018. He has also only played 90% of the defensive snaps twice since 2015 (90% in 2018 and 91% in 2020). Furthermore, he has had a grand total of 73 QB hits over the past five seasons after recording 50 in 2015.
Yes, I know Watt was injured during three of those seasons. But in a game where NFL offenses are getting younger and shiftier, who isn’t to say the Bills could get a younger prospect in free agency or the 2021 NFL Draft?
3) Bills Defensive Line Needs to Get Younger, Not Older
The Bills need to get younger on the defensive line. Signing Watt would serve to make their already aged front even older. For starters, two of Buffalo’s defensive ends are over the age of 30: Mario Addison (33) and Jerry Hughes (32).
If Addison and Hughes (both right around Watt’s age) could not develop a pass rush, how will Watt fill the void? They cannot put everything on his shoulders to come to Buffalo for two or three years because his body may not handle the stress.
The Bills will need a younger defensive push to get to a Lombardi Trophy. Pittsburgh has T.J. Watt (age 26) and Stephon Tuitt (age 27), who combined for 26 sacks in 2020. Meanwhile, Chase Young and Montez Sweat combined for 16.5 sacks with Washington; both are under 25 years old.
Potential Trade Package
Bills Receive: Watt + 2021 sixth (#178 via Miami)
Texans Receive: 2021 fifth (#158) + 2021 seventh (#200 via Carolina)
Zach: As Bruce Nolan and Ryan Talbot suggested, J.J. Watt is in a similar situation as Calais Campbell last year. Houston would get someone to take on Watt’s contract as well as a couple of day three picks. Meanwhile, the Bills could secure one of the best defensive ends in recent memory for a minimal cost. Of course, the Bills would have to restructure Watt’s contract (likely converting a portion of his $17.5 million salary into a signing bonus and playing time/performance incentives). They would also have to release/restructure the contracts of current veterans, something they are likely going to do anyway.
Ben: Watt’s injury history and recent inconsistency may deter the Bills from pursuing him. That being said, he has not publicly demanded a trade/release, making Houston more likely to ship him to a contender. (Unlike Deshaun Watson, who took every Texans-related thing off his social media like a two-year-old.) I would not be shocked if Houston took this offer; they get two late-round picks and Watt’s contract off the books. Meanwhile, the Bills get Watt for another potential playoff run in 2021-2022. Plus, if the deal does not work out, the Bills can let him walk when his contract expires after the season. There are a lot of moving parts involved, but if Brandon Beane wants to make another strong trade, this could be his chance.
* Player stats provided by Pro Football Reference, Sports Reference.com, and PFF.
* Contract figures provided by Spotrac.
What do you think about Watt potentially becoming a Buffalo Bill? Do you think the benefits outweigh the risks or vice-versa? Let me (@zvaughn2712) and Ben (@benblakely18) know on Twitter or in the comments.